Told, at the hospital, as expected but still shocked into despair, that there’s been no response to the chemotherapy. All these months for nothing–the cancer in there, ‘no response,’ like an obstinant child. Ineffective drugs–the equivalent of having done nothing at all. It hurts all the time now, a dull strong ache, heavy and poisonous, this albatross organ of sex and life I’m forced to carry around, this growing embodiment of hate & pain & evil inside me. And I’m full of hate as it poisons me–looking vengefully at everyone on the street, wondering why they don’t have cancer. Willing it on them, even. Perfect strangers. At the beginning of the illness I felt instilled in me an awkward, cautious respect for strangers–thinking that if I could be living this awful painful dream of a life beneath my subway-face, what could their lives hold, their faces hide–what were their realities?
And now I feel my own death pressing on me from the inside and I want to drag down the scenery-people with me as I go.
Back to the hospital tomorrow to start all again. A new drug now: Taxotere. Not stronger, she says, just different. Her responses are all patronizing and evasive–as if she doesn’t know the answers to the questions, or just doesn’t see the use in bothering to give them. The kind of voice that says Oh No It Was Just a Bad Dream, when you can see for yourself how the world is crumbling outside the window. Made to feel crazy and impudent for knowing you are awake. “We’re hopeful.” Hopeful is a word for a greeting card. For the impotent relatives who say they’re praying. For those praying and knowing underneath its utter ineffectiveness, but what else can you say but I’ll pray for you and mumble some slapdash please to Jesus. I want something more than crossed fingers from the people meant to be treating me.
So I look up the drug online once we’re back and read: 30-60% effectiveness.
Multiply that by the chance of not having responded to the FEC, by the chances of getting cancer in your twenties by–
these sick incalculable equations.
Updike: “Is it just these people I’m outside or is it all America?” Rabbit Angstrom’s runaway query resonates. And for me it transcends America; am I outside all the world? There is not one person in this world yet with whom I feel I have achieved “communication.” At odds with everyone out of jealousy, out of timidity, out of sheer incomprehensibility. Loving K & knowing he loves me and yet the sad fact of his inability to understand me always apparent. And should I settle for that as the apex of human interaction because it just might be possible that no one will ever understand–how adolescent, to say “no one understands me.” Boo, oh boo hoo hoo. But honest I am as baffled by “connection” as I was as an adolescent. Thinking if I could just get out of Erie, the world would open up to me. Well, the world opened but the the people were the same. And all the possibly-important people of my life are those I haven’t spoken to because of the fear of their brilliance. Those shadow-people who will perhaps become characters so I can create fictional dialogue-relationships with them based purely on conjecture and regret.
I am ashamed of myself for my fear of people and my hatred of them, at finding so frighteningly difficult what should come naturally as a member of the species, using language and having empathy, even a hello-how-are-you kind of language and empathy. I operate on, as David Foster Wallace said, “the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world and that my immediate moods and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.”
In this commencement address, published ironically posthumously, he professes life’s “about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head.” And he was 45 and he was dead. Hung himself at home and sparked that brief literary twitter of ohnowhatashame and so young and possible, so F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Last Tycoon.
Reading this inappropriate manifesto days after his death, I was alarmed in that best-writing way: that someone has articulated something you’d previously believed to be inarticulable, unique to you. Yes, how he feels the same depression and despair that I do–and in supermarkets too–“at how repulsive most of them are and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem here in the checkout line.”
It’s that tangible, well-worded depression I identify with too readily. The same adolescent affinity I always felt for Plath’s journals. But the differences between them–DFW & SP et. al.–and me are myriad; why should depression and arrogance and selfishness make us kindred? 1. They were spectacular, and I am not. 2. They sought death, and I do not.
What scares me most is not losing the time to produce, but realizing that no matter how miuch time I had, I never could. Like that joke–“I’m older than I ever intended to be.” Only it’s not just that–it’s that I am more dull and ordinary, more purposeless, less driven, less spectacular and brilliant than I ever intended to be.
That’s what kills me. Not the cancer. Or maybe the cancer is somehow made of it–a symbol, a metaphor, and a bad one. Like how as a child I always imagined my life as a novel, Jane-Eyre-ish, Dear Reader peeping in, interested. Only narrated always in the third person; even I couldn’t communicate with me, my split-self, writing/living and being read. And at some point I stopped because I realized there was no Dear Reader.
Worse is: what if there’s nothing to express in the first place?
DFW: “the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.”
Or: the constant gnawing sense of having (still) never found some infinite thing?
Every day I feel some touch of that recalcitrant, Hamletesque melancholy: “I do not set my life at a pin’s fee.”
I just wish someone did. That belief in me, that sincere estimation of my goodness & potential. Recognition of my value not as a lover or daughter, automatically and unquestioningly, but seeking someone who disinterestedly believes that I have even a “pin’s fee” in me to contribute to the world. Someone to advocate against my death sentence.
So yes, the desperate project of my life is to make it to “30, perhaps 50”–to do something with the time too.
I feel the tumor pressing painfully inside me. No longer something foreign and separable-seeming, but part of me. No matter what they do some ghost of it, some remembered part, will always be there, hurting me.
And it’s much too close to my heart. My God — my heart.